Tag Archives: Glenn Burke

LGBT History Month 2013: Jason Collins and Robbie Rogers

5 Jun

CollinsRogersWhat a difference a year makes! Last summer there were no out gay men in professional team sports. Suddenly there are two, each of whom has made a significant difference in the national conversation. Professional athletics, especially male teams, is one of the last closets to be pried open.

Former Baltimore Raven and outspoken LGBT ally Brendon Ayanbadejo indicated that at least four gay NFL players were considering coming out as a group and had talked to him about strategy. Before that could happen, NBA star Jason Collins and soccer player Robbie Rogers boldly burst the doors open.

Collins became the first non-retired, publicly out man on a professional team just a month ago. Coming out in a long interview in Sports Illustrated, he spoke eloquently about the crippling power of the closet and the desire to be accepted as a complete human being. Reactions were all over the map, but generally positive. With a couple of notable exceptions, other NBA players have been very supportive, setting the stage for more out basketball players in the near future.

Barely a week ago, Robbie Rogers broke two barriers. Signing with the LA Galaxy, he became the first out major league soccer player. The very next day, he joined his team on the field, becoming the first publicly out gay man to play a team sport. As with Collins, other than some grumbling from the usual “Family Values” groups, Rogers has seen nothing but support.

The courage of these two men does nothing to diminish the many out athletes that came before them. Tennis stars Renée Richards and Martina Navratilova were early out players. Baseball’s Glenn Burke was out to his team while still playing — to the detriment of his career. David Kopay, Billy Bean, and John Amaechi all came out not long after retiring from football, baseball, and basketball respectively. Every out voice counts!

The macho image of male team sports has contributed to the long-standing homophobia in that arena. Collins and Rogers, building on the brave men and women who preceded them, have helped change that dynamic. Let’s hope that soon there will be too many out players to list casually. Until then, every move forward must be celebrated.

Hero of the Week Award: May 3, Jason Collins

3 May
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

It isn’t often that one of the week’s biggest stories coincides with a worthy hero, but this week it was an easy match. NBA free agent Jason Collins demonstrated courage and leadership by becoming the first publicly out male athlete in one of the big four team sports.

That’s a lot of qualifiers, because although sports is still one area where being out is less prevalent, there have been many pioneers. David Kopay and Billy Bean  both came out publicly after retiring. Martina Navratilova was one of the first out athletes still playing. Glenn Burke, sadly unknown to most people today, was out to his teammates and coaches while still playing, a decision that cost him his career. Building on the work of these men and women, Collins has taken things to the next level.

Not only did he come out very publicly, he did so as a cover feature in Sports Illustrated. That speaks volumes about how things are changing and how Collins’ courage should burst open some other athletic closets soon. Somebody had to take this step, and as Collins watched his straight friends participate in Pride activities and provide public support to the LGBT community, he realized it needed to be he:

I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, “I’m different.” If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand…

Thank you for raising your hand, Jason. Let’s hope a sea of hands rises with yours.  We need more wonderful role models in the LGBT community.

I also have to call attention to Jason’s honoring of the late Matthew Shepard.  Jason picked the number 98 for his jersey to honor Matthew Shepard.  Shepard was brutally murdered in October of 1998.

Honorable mention goes to the many people who took the time to congratulate Collins and provide him support. Hopefully this outpouring will embolden other players. Special mention goes to retired NFL player Leroy Butler. He was scheduled to provide a motivational speech at a Wisconsin church. His simple tweet of support to Collins resulted in the invitation being rescinded, costing him the $8500 speaking fee. Butler took the time to expose the church’s non-Christian behavior and reiterated his support. That’s a class act.

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 22, Glenn Burke

22 Jun

Thank you to my dear friend Ahmed for inspiring me to write this tribute. Today we honor and celebrate a courageous athlete who sacrificed his career for his honesty. Glenn Burke was born in 1952 in Oakland, CA. Before we go any farther, I have to say this man is an absolute HERO! He was a star basketball player in high school, leading his team to an undefeated season and a regional championship. Named high school basketball player of the year in California, he seriously considered an NBA career, but received a baseball offer first. Given his height (barely six feet), he opted to take the offer.

He debuted with the LA Dodgers in 1976 and was called “the next Willie Mays” due to his success in the minors. Rumors about his sexual orientation started early and Burke refused to deny them. When Dodgers general manager Al Campanis offered to pay for a lavish wedding and honeymoon to defuse the gossip, Burke’s reply was “To a woman?” He also angered manager Tommy Lasorda by striking up a friendship with his estranged son, the gay Tommy Lasorda, Jr. Unwilling to compromise, he irritated the power brokers on the team even though his fellow players seemed unphased.

Despite his talent, the Dodgers traded him to the Oakland A’s (for a much less promising player) in 1978. A’s manager Billy Martin introduced him to the team as “this faggot.” He was given little playing time; after he suffered a knee injury, the A’s sent him back down to the minors. He retired from baseball in 1979 at the age of 27. Burke played in the majors for four and a half seasons, batting .237 and stealing 35 bases. “Prejudice drove me out of baseball sooner than I should have,” Burke said in an interview with The New York Times last year. “But I wasn’t changing.”

Glenn Burke was one of the first athletes to come out publicly, definitely the first major league baseball player. He is one of the rare players to come out while he was still active. Most, like activist and retired baseballer Billy Bean, wait until they are out of the locker rooms to live their lives honestly. As an African American man in the late 70s, he faced opposition for his honesty on almost every front. Nevertheless, he stuck by his principles. As he observed in an interview with People in 1994, “My mission as a gay ballplayer was to break a stereotype . . . I think it worked.”

Sadly, Burke was badly injured in a car accident in 1987. His leg was permanently damaged and the pain led to increased drug use and dependency. He suffered financial loss and homelessness, only slowly beginning to rebuild his life in the early 90s. By then he was dealing with significant complications from HIV. Glenn Burke died at 42 in 1995. His best epitaph is this quote:

They can’t ever say now that a gay man can’t play in the majors, because I’m a gay man and I made it.

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